Legal Ethics

Debit Card Linked to Trust Account Led to Lawyer's Disbarment

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Anticipating a fee dispute after his law partners terminated his secretary last August, Garland Clifton “Gary” Hall III began withdrawing funds from a Chenault Hammond & Hall account to cover money to which he would be entitled for his commercial bankruptcy work.

But there was one big problem. The firm’s only debit card was linked to its trust account, which it used to cover general office expenses, he tells the Decatur Daily (sub. req.).

Then, when the Alabama attorney’s withdrawals caused a client’s $18,000 check to bounce, a disciplinary action followed.

Because of the trust account withdrawals, the firm had no choice but to terminate Hall and report his conduct to the state bar association, says partner Billy Chenault. He and partner Stephen Hammond emphasize that the firm’s clients lost no money, in part because the firm added money to the trust account, Hammond tells the newspaper in an e-mail.

Hall, 51, was disbarred for five years by consent last month and ordered to pay his now-former firm restitution of $59,425. However, he says he hopes to regain his law license eventually and will ask state bar authorities to allow him to work in a law firm in a nonattorney role in the meantime.

“All I know how to do is practice law,” he says. “I hope to get back in it. It’s breaking my heart. It’s also a money struggle.”

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